Because I’ve collected a few MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) and recommend them as a good preparedness item, I thought I should actually try one. For this review I flipped through my MREs and selected one which I thought would be missed the least in the event of an emergency. I chose “Veggie Burger in BBQ Sauce.” Given my co-reviewer’s response to the entrée, I chose correctly. She’s a toddler with very discriminating tastes.
The MRE pouch is water and airtight. It weighs about 1½ lbs. and measures roughly 12x7x2.5 inches. Inside is a whole host of treasure. Here’s what I found:
1. Bag of Sliced Cranberries—A generous portion and tasty. My daughter and I both enjoyed these. Very similar to Craisins with enough to take with you for later.
2. Packet of Iced Tea Drink Mix-Lemon—This drink mix makes 6oz. of very drinkable tea. Good lemon flavor and not overly sweet. Toddler-approved, though I couldn’t tell if it had much caffeine. Coffee would have been preferable on that count.
3. Brownie with Chocolate Chips—The most caloric item in the MRE, the brownie was delicious. No icing, no nuts, just a good-size chocolate patty. Enjoyed by both of us, particularly in light of its pre-entrée spot in the lineup.
4. Vegetable Patty in Barbecue Sauce—I heated this using the included Flameless Ration Heater in about 10 minutes. I am an omnivore and enjoy both veggie burgers and BBQ. This hybrid was passable. My daughter wouldn’t even try it. The burger itself tasted like some of the poorer frozen veggie burgers available out there. The sauce was inoffensive—neither too sweet nor too spicy—but nothing special. The combination would be delicious in an emergency but not something I’d ever crave.
5. Two slices of Wheat Snack Bread—Though I used these to make a sandwich with the veggie burger, my daughter tried it on its own and liked it. If you’re expected soft, fluffy whole wheat bread, you’ll be disappointed, but it’s actually pretty good for what it is. These slices have a similar texture to Pop Tarts but are a little softer, thicker and with more wheat taste. They make for an oddly rigid sandwich but serve their purpose.
6. Flameless Ration Heater (FRH)—These are water activated and simple to use, once you’ve read the directions. Though the warning about flammable hydrogen gas being produced was disconcerting, I had no such problems. They take very little water and only about 10-15 minutes to heat your meal.
7. Spoon—This is your only implement but is sturdy and long-handled. Adequate to get to the bottom of any of the food pouches should you choose to eat them this way.
8. Moist Towelette—Makes sense with the BBQ but I think these are standard in all the MREs.
9. Toilet Paper—What I initially thought was a short stack of small napkins is actually several squares of TP. Anyway, it’s paper, slightly absorbent and has no idea what it’s being used to wipe. Very considerate addition.
10. Packet of Salt—Also works as a shaker type instrument, as my daughter discovered.
11. Bottle of Tabasco—Tiniest bottle I’ve ever seen. I didn’t use it, but I imagine it would be good on a few things and might be a good barter item for real “hot saucers”—you know who you are.
12. Gum—Two Chiclet-type pieces, mint.
13. Book of Matches—For an after-meal smoke, I suppose. Or maybe it goes with the TP. Either way, it was a nice surprise.
Overall, I found this meal to be surprisingly tasty and filling, as did my daughter. The only exception was the entrée, and I suspect most entrée options will be more palatable. This meal had 1200-1300 calories with a good balance of protein, fat, fiber and nutrients. In an emergency, one of these per day would be sufficient to live on for quite awhile. Two a day would be almost luxurious. Though I allowed my daughter to help me with this review, it is good to know that kids would eat an MRE, too, if they needed to.
Military MREs are generally not available to the public but two of the three contracted MRE makers produce civilian versions that are very similar to military issue. They can generally be purchased in cases of 12 and cost anywhere from about $60-90. Shipping can be a bit steep due to weight.
Wherever you buy from, be sure to check the dates. They will generally have a Packed Date and an Inspection Date. The Inspection Date is three years after the Packed Date, but MREs stored in a cool spot should last 5 years. Some stored as long as 10 years and beyond have been found to be perfectly edible but may start to lose some of their nutritional value. Don’t eat them if the pouches are swollen or otherwise suspect.
MREs may not be the most cost-effective way to create “tangible margin” in your life, but they do offer many benefits: 1) Long shelf-life. 2) May be eaten without any prep. 3) Lighter than cans. 4) Good nutritional and caloric value. 5) Variety in each meal. 6) More similar to one’s usual diet than other options, which can be comforting both psychologically and gastrointestinally in times of crisis.
If you can do it, I recommend picking up sufficient MREs for 4-7 days with 1-2 meals per person per day. Just be sure to store them in a cool dry spot, inspect them seasonally and rotate them out as needed (Feast Days!).
For a lower-cost but less flavorful option, you might also try Mainstay Food Ration bars. They are lemon-flavored squares with 400 calories and lots of nutrients each. They come in packs of 3, 6 and 9 and also have a 5-year shelf-life. Though not as appealing as MREs, their compact size makes them great for stowing in a survival kit, glove box, etc.